People Are Good, But We Can Do Better

After a pretty rough week in terms of current events last week, wouldn’t it be nice to have full confidence and trust in other people to help make the world a better place?

Lately, there seems to be a growing distrust of others, especially those who are unlike us, and that’s not a world I’m comfortable living in, because it goes against our human nature.
Here’s the thing: all people are born good, so it’s our natural state of being.
The fact that we’re all inherently good is the reason we’re at the top of the food chain: we’ve come together as a species to build a system of trust and a society, and the only way we could conceivably do this is by working together. Humans are better when we have strong social ties, since teamwork is the evolutionary trait that has allowed us to rule the planet.
The way I’ve been seeing people treat one another is getting away from that and it worries me.

Once we’re born, our culture, loved ones, and education condition us and we start to lose our innate tendency to help others in lieu of developing behaviors centered around how right and righteous we are, while proving wrong those who don’t believe and act the same as us.
I want to live in a world where we focus on helping each other build better people and communities, but that’s tough to do when we’re distracted by the forces dividing us.

How do we build that world?
What if learning to work together was a part of our childhood conditioning?
I don’t mean sharing blocks and not pulling each other’s hair in preschool, I mean learning how to come together, no matter our backgrounds or if we even agree with one another, and fix problems with a focus on how each of us can help.
What if school curriculum was centered around learning about one another, learning how to communicate and have empathy, and learning how to best combine our backgrounds, skills, and knowledge to create something? What if, instead of ranking students based off of scores representing their own individual knowledge, we develop a system where the goal is for students to come together to make each other better in pursuit of a goal, say a class project, a community service, or just helping one another score better? If this was part of our upbringing – how we were conditioned – how would we, as adults, behave differently when we come across someone who isn’t like us? Would we be resistant and fearful, or excited and hopeful?
If we’re conditioned to want to help each other be better, how different would the news look? Would they be focused on human progress or the events tearing us apart?

The world I want to live in is one where people come together to understand one another so that we can learn to build better communities.
My question to you: how can you help make this world a reality?

Gun Violence and the Solution That’s Right Under Our Noses

Last month, President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos hosted a roundtable discussion where they invited victims of school shootings to the White House to discuss their experiences and ideas for solutions. Regardless of your position on the president and Mrs. DeVos, this was a welcomed development in the debate over gun violence. Instead of debating, arguing, and the typical candor between politicians, real people came together to share solution ideas for a problem that has divided us for years. Not one to watch the news (or what I call “the noise” because I’m just so damn clever), I was transfixed. In a culture where we’re focused on who’s right vs. who’s wrong rather than “How can we come together to create a solution?” for once those in attendance had a common goal: create a culture of safety. Not five minutes after the meeting ended, came the hot takes from pundits and social media accounts focused again on who was right and who was wrong, why the president is an asshat, and his meeting notes, including a reminder to “hear” those voicing their concerns. We were right back to focusing on problems instead of creating solutions. In all this noise, we missed out on the solution to the problem that was offered during the meeting that doesn’t just take care of the symptoms like mental health reform, banning certain guns, or arming teachers: a cultural shift focused on how we see one another.
During this meeting, one person really stood out to me: Darrel Scott, father of Rachel Scott, who was killed in the 4/20/97 shooting at Columbine High School. This was the school shooting that brought the topic of gun violence into the national spotlight almost 21 years ago, and still, few solutions have been reached. In fact, mass shootings have only intensified, because in these twenty-plus years, Columbine has dropped out of the top 10 list for deadliest shootings (um… yay?). It’s time for new ideas, because the ideas we’ve been working with for over two decades are clearly not doing the trick. What Scott said struck a chord with me since I study and share how to create positive workplace cultures for a living. Scott has a brief opportunity to get to the core of, not only the issue of gun violence, but the issues of violence in general and the underlying lack of happiness plaguing the country. Scott isn’t just talking about it a solution, he’s actively doing something to fix the deeply rooted cause of violent behavior: a lack of human connection.
Since his daughter lost her life, Scott has founded Rachel’s Challenge,* a nonprofit on a mission to create a positive climate focused on making schools safer, more connected places where bullying and violence are replaced with kindness and respect. According to Scott, the program has touched 28 million students since its founding in 1998, has prevented 7 school shootings, prevents an average of 150 suicides a year, and has seen improvements in the schools with whom they have partnered. According to the website, this includes gains in community engagement, faculty/student relationships, leadership potential, and school climate, as well as reductions in bullying, alcohol, tobacco, and drug use. While debates rage on over whether to arm teachers, ban automatic weapons, or apply stricter background checks when purchasing a firearm, Scott, a private citizen just like me and you, free from the entanglements of bureaucracy and politics, is, putting it bluntly, getting shit done.
Scott’s solution: “We must create a culture of connectedness. We must create a culture in which our classmates become our friends.” He goes on to explain how he has seen students connect with one another and makes a fascinating point: “Every single one of these school shootings have been from young men who are disconnected.”**
In his book, Flourish: positive psychologist Martin Seligman lists positive relationships as one of the five elements of human well-being.***

“Selfish-gene theory argues that the individual is the sole unit of natural selection. Evidence shows that the group is a primary unit of natural selection.”

Sure, I have read books in the field of positive psychology that re-affirm this, but it’s through my research in other fields like leadership, history, and, yes, even improvisation that have led me to go as far as to say that a lack of human connectedness is the causation of aggression, violence, and discrimination.
From Simon Sinek in his book Leaders Eat Last:

“When we cooperate or look out for others, serotonin and oxytocin reward us with the feelings of security, fulfillment, belonging, trust, and camaraderie.”

Humans are wired to get along, but we’re conditioned to covet personal gain, which goes against this biology, and costs us opportunities to make connections, become happier, and grow exponentially. In his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, historian Yuval Noah Harrari wrote:

“Evolution favors those capable of forming strong social ties. In addition, since humans are born underdeveloped, they can be educated and socialized far greater than any other animals.”

To solve the problem of gun violence, we must create a culture focused on humans connecting with one another in order to make each other better and to make the world a better place, which is what Darrel Scott and his wife are doing with Rachel’s Challenge. I believe that the long-term solution is an overhaul of the education system where the goal is for students to learn to connect with one another and work together, rather than work separately for individual accomplishment. Until then, each of us can play a small role on creating a culture of connectedness in our own lives and circles. Though each of us as individuals has a small voice, we have an opportunity to come together and connect as a cacophony of voices on a quest to create safety, happiness, and love. It is in the pursuit of creating something we all believe in that can connect us, rather than arguing over who is right or who is wrong, which denies us the chance to create connection.
Darrel Scott is just one voice who has brought together a chorus of many voices to make a difference and bring us closer to a more human culture:
“The focus must not be just on unity or diversity, because if you focus too much on diversity, you create division. If you focus too much on unity, you’ll create compromise. But if you focus on relatedness and how you can relate with one another, then you can celebrate the diversity and you can see the unity take place. The focus really needs to be on how we can connect. That’s something our organizations have learned: how to connect students with each other, with themselves, with their teachers, and with their parents.”

Imagine the freedom of walking the streets without the fear of violence – with a feeling of confidence that every person you pass has your best interests at heart. We have the choice to focus on how this isn’t possible, which is what has been happening, or we can shift our focus onto how we can come together and create this culture. One thing you can do today is not to debate, but to listen to the ideas of others and remember that no matter who we are, we all want to feel safe and loved. How can you help make this happen and connect with others today?

“The most important decision we make is whether we believe in a friendly or hostile universe.” – Albert Einstein
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in looking with new eyes.” – Marcel Proust
*Darrel Scott speaks at about 33:50 in this video:
https://www.denverpost.com/2018/02/21/darrell-scott-columbine-shooting-donald-trump/
** Learn more about Rachel’s Challenge and how a culture of connectedness is helping students all over the country build relationships with classmates, parents, teachers, and themselves.
***The other four are positive emotion, engagement, meaning, and accomplishment.

2017 Lesson 1: Follow the Creators

Another year has come and gone, and with it: lessons learned, friendships made, and successes achieved.
First of all, I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year and a congratulations for making it through 2017. Without all of you, I’d just be creating characters and screaming in different accents inside of a padded room, so I just want to say thank you for supporting my mission – because that’s what it is. David Horning has an agenda to inspire others to be more engaged, excited, and happy about the endless opportunities to serve other people and make the world a better place, all while referring to himself in the third person.
In the last year, I grew substantially, but I also regressed in some ways, which I don’t have a problem admitting. Imperfection goes hand-in-hand with being human, but the key to living a fulfilling life is growing from those missteps. When I sat down to write down the lessons I learned last year, I thought, “Oh this’ll be quick. I’ll jot down a few things, elaborate a bit, and post it.”
Those “few” things ended up being 22, so I decided it would be easier to split these lessons up into multiple posts after narrowing down 22 to 7.
Over the next week, I want to share the most important things that I learned this year that you too can use to make your 2018 better than your 2017, or as I say:

Make 2018 20Gr18

Cue groans.
I’ll also be posting some predictions for next year that I’m 100% positive will happen because I’m basically Nostradamus and you can bet on this stuff.

What I Learned #1: Listen to the creators

We live in a world where we are being bombarded by noise from all angles, especially with so much content being posted on social media at all hours of the day. According to Dr. Joseph Dispenza, our brains are absorbing 400 billion bits of information every second, but we’re only aware of 2,000 of those. Without you even knowing, your brain is picking and choosing what information you’re even aware of existing. Our brains don’t care which information is helping us or hurting us, it just filters out what it determines is useful based on where our conscious attention is going most often.
With the election of a controversial president, my social media feed was overflowing with articles, videos, and soundbytes calling him out for not exactly behaving like a leader. Considering my speaking presentations and most of my research are founded upon what makes a good leader, I spent too much time falling into the social media vortex and finding myself getting angrier and angrier. As the months wore on, I kept hearing the same complaints and criticisms and not seeing any actions being taken, so I decided to shift my focus.

Instead of focusing on information that lowers my happiness and diverts my attention from what I care about, I chose to unfollow and unsubscribe to many news sources and even friends who continued to post negative content without taking any meaningful action.

Because I was spending so much time focusing on what I didn’t want, my attention was drawn away from what I wanted. Over the second half of 2017, I began paying closer attention to the organizations and individuals leading the charge in revolutionizing education (Sir Ken Robinson, Peter Diamandis, The Learning Revolution Project) and renewable energy (Elon Musk, Tesla). TED Talks became a part of my routine, and I invested more time and energy in reading books to help grow myself, rather than getting sucked into the black hole that can be the internet. Instead of being pessimistic about the future, I started getting excited and am now energized by the information I consume instead of being drained by it.

What are you passionate about? What makes you angry? Now take the effort to learn who is focused on creating solutions to these problems and find a way to contribute, either by sharing the good news or by actually taking action and getting out into the community to do something about it. It’s one thing to draw attention to what we don’t want in the world, but to continue to draw attention to it over and over is doing a disservice to yourself and the people in your circle. Follow the creators and become a creator yourself – from personal experience, you’ll feel excited, energized, and ready to take on the world.

2018 Prediction #1: Donald Trump will not be pictured with a llama

I know this one is controversial, but I just don’t think it’s going to happen. A horse, cow, or chimpanzee? Sure. But llamas don’t equal ratings, and ratings are the most important part of being president.

How We Can Learn from Our Evolution

Have you ever read a book, watched a TED Talk, or heard a quote that made you take a step back and ponder the meaning of your existence? Check out this excerpt from Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari:

“The evolution of animals to get to where they are on the food chain took hundreds of millions of years constantly checking and balancing so that one species wasn’t dominant. Humans jumped from the middle to the top in such a short time, ecosystems didn’t get much of a chance to evolve along with them. Moreover, humans also failed to adjust. Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savanna, we are full of fear and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous. Many historical calamities, from deadly wars to ecological catastrophes have resulted from this overhasty jump…”

If you’ve ever wondered why humans can be such dicks, it’s because we haven’t had time to mature yet! As a species, we’re still in the snapping bra straps, giving Indian rug burns, harassing people for being overweight phase of life while we’re at home worrying we’re not good enough, insecure about our own status as the cool kid. Still, that’s no excuse for the way we’ve been acting lately. We’re at the top of the food chain, and unless Earth is invaded by the Yautja species from the Predator movies, that’s never going to change… unless we decide to dethrone ourselves.

“Tolerance is not a trait of sapiens. In modern days, as simple a difference as skin color, dialect, and religion has been enough to prompt one group of sapiens to set about and destroy another group.”

Whoa.

We’re so worried about losing our spot as the coolest kid in class, we kill people who are different than us because they’re “threatening us.” It’s not politics, religion, or skin color that cause violent conflicts, these are surface issues. Deep down, it’s our evolutionary software telling us that everyone unlike us is trying to murder us.

The good news is that we reached the top of the food chain, not because we made weapons and killed all of the other predators, but because we developed a brain that allows us to learn from our mistakes and plan for the future, and we also learned to work as a team to overcome obstacles. Our physical adaptations worked against us so hard, that the only ways to adapt was using our brains to learn and plan and teamwork. Think about it:

· We have no fur to protect us from the cold

· We’re slower than most of our predators

· We can climb trees, but we’re not exactly great at it

· Our nails and teeth are barely butter-knife-sharp

· Our children aren’t self-sufficient until they’re basically teenagers, sometimes later

So how do we overcome our self-destructive behaviors?

Knowing that humanity is the greatest risk to humanity’s success is a great place to start. Whether it’s violence, greed, or a basic “I’m-better-than-you” mentality, these behaviors are a result of our hardwired insecurity. To overcome them, just like we overcame predators and unfriendly climates, we need to take full advantage of our evolutionary adaptations:

1. Learn from mistakes and plan for a better future

2. Work as a team to overcome obstacles

Though our insecurities lead to the differences dividing us, it’s these different perspectives, life experiences, and talents working in unison toward a common vision that will better our planet, better each other, and better our species as a whole.

IF WE CONTINUE ON THE “I’M RIGHT, YOU’RE WRONG” PATH, HUMANS ARE GOING TO KEEP FEELING THREATENED, AND WHEN HUMANS FEEL THREATENED, WE KILL EVERYTHING.

That’s just stating a historical fact.

Let’s learn from our past, imagine a better future, and work together right now to start making that happen because there’s no reason to feel insecure; we’re the cool kids around here and we aren’t moving down the food chain anytime soon.

Stop Stressing: 6 Ways to Eliminate Stress

“I’m so stressed out right now.”
“Do you like being stressed out?
“No.”
“Then don’t be.”

If only it were that simple…

But guess what? It is.

I know you’re thinking, “He doesn’t know what I’m thinking.” You’re probably also thinking: “What does he mean, ‘It’s simple to not be stressed out??’ I call bullish!t.” I thought the same thing until I put techniques into practice that I learned by studying spiritual teachers, psychologists, and neurologists who have mastered inner-peace. Right now, I am working on all facets of launching my own business while working a second job. The to-do list is constantly growing, no matter how hard I work, so it should be easy to slip into some serious stress. But I don’t because I like having fun, and being stressed out isn’t fun. My guess is you like having fun too. Have you ever noticed that when you’re feeling stressed, your heart rate quickens, you break out into cold sweats, your vision blurs, you can’t think straight, your breath shortens, your head starts pounding, you’re constantly on the brink of tears, and you’re tempted to punch the next person who says, “You don’t look so good”? These are some of the instantaneous effects of cortisol, the chemical our brains release when we get stressed, and these are the furthest things from fun. Some of the long term effects of the continual release of cortisol include heartburn, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, random aches and pains, lethargy, acne, ulcers, depression, an underachieving immune system, heart attack, stroke, cancer, diabetes, memory loss, infertility, irregular periods, commas, and semicolons, and most importantly, erectile dysfunction. Yeesh! This blog is a call to action. Nobody wants to have a mental meltdown, heart attack, or erectile dysfunction (unless you’re on stage wearing sweatpants), so what can you do about stress? These are the six steps I take on a daily basis to catch stress before it has a chance to affect my penis. (Note: there are many techniques that are out there, just waiting for you to discover them. What works for one person, may not work for everyone.) You can turn your life around by kicking stress in the mouth and then replacing it with joy, inner-peace, and mental freedom. Here’s how:

1. Change the way you talk to yourself

If you have read any of my previous writings, attended any of my presentations, or engaged in a deep conversation about life with me, this is always my first step. Why? Because we’re driven by our programming, and we become programmed by what we tell ourselves over and over and over and… You get the picture. If we tell ourselves “This thing is really stressing me out!” a ton of times, our brain acts on this command. The more we tell ourselves we’re stressed out in certain situations, the easier it is for our brains to oblige. The more our brains oblige, the thought becomes lodged in our subconscious, and before we know it, we become stressed without even having the time to say, “This situation is stressing me out.” It’s like typing ‘f’ in your internet browser’s search bar and being taken to Facebook without having to press more than 2 keys. When we start to hear the toxic words or feel the negative emotions, all we have to do is listen to the words we’re saying to ourselves, question them (Is it really true that this thing is the worst ever? Is this thought helping me or hurting me? What’s are the best-case, worst-case, and realistic scenarios here? Etc.), and replace them with thoughts that don’t stress us out.

“I’m getting this done in time and my audience is going to love it.”
“Every step I take is bringing me closer and closer to my goal.”
“If this situation were to turn out in my favor, what would it look like?”
“What step can I take right now to get from where I am to where I want to be?”

Since I’ve trained my brain to think these thoughts to replace the stressful ones, they always bring about an inner calm and a sense of excitement – definitely better than breaking out into a cold sweat, especially if I have to shake someone’s hand.

2. Look at the situation from a different perspective

You’ve been hit by the stress bus (ouch), but there’s still a chance to save yourself! Quick, change the camera angle through which you see the situation! There are two ways to do this:

A.) Realize it’s not the situation, but your thoughts about the
situation that are causing you stress.
B.) See the stress as an opportunity to grow.

A.) Realize it’s not the situation
I recently had a projector malfunction on the morning of a presentation. The first thoughts that went through my head included, “This is bullsh*t! How could this happen to me!?” “I’m going to have to wing it, it’s going to be terrible, and I’m never going to get to speak again!” “I’m going to be so late – they’re going to hate me!” Once we have thoughts like these, our actions follow. In this case, I proceeded to barrel through the house, knocking things over, forgetting the whiteboard I was going to use in place of the slideshow, and cussing my way down the highway at 90 miles an hour (even though I had plenty of time to get there). My heart was pounding, I had an abnormal amount of pit sweat, and I almost got into a car accident. That’s when I saw an overturned semi truck on the side of the road and I was finally able to catch one of these illogical, toxic thoughts. I immediately re-framed the situation and started to laugh when I got to the, “Are my thoughts helping or hurting me?” question. The answer was obvious, but because I was stuck on the idea of the situation being more powerful than my thoughts about it, I couldn’t reframe until I mentally took myself out of the situation and was able to adjust my perspective. That’s when I:

B.) Saw the stress as an opportunity to grow
Feelings are our subconscious’ way of telling us if we’re on or off track. Once we realize it’s not the situation, but our thoughts about it that are eliciting the feelings, it becomes easier to see that we’re off track. That is the silver lining of stress: it’s a sign that things aren’t going great, but if we succumb to the stress, we miss out on an awesome opportunity to change our behavior through new thoughts. When we feel stress, it’s an opportune time for us to say, “Hey, that’s a feeling I don’t like. I should do something about it!” instead of saying, “I’m so stressed out and I hate it. Work is stressing me out, my partner is stressing me out, the way the birds seem to be waking me up earlier and earlier is f*cking stressing me out.” Use stress as a launching point to find a solution, but don’t focus on the stress for too long.

3. Breathe in the moment

That sounds a whole lot like “smoke weed, dude.” Even though drugs, cigarettes, junk food, sex, or alcohol provide a temporary respite, we can’t solve an internal problem externally. Real change comes from within, which is where our breath – the thing which gives us life – comes from. If you’re feeling stressed, sometimes the best thing to do is:
> Close your eyes
> Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose while simultaneously
pushing out your belly (this is called diaphragmatic breathing)
> Exhale slowly out of your mouth. Do this a few times while focusing on
the air flowing in and out of your body. In fact, notice your body and
feel gratitude that you can feel your feet, legs, torso, hands, arms,
shoulders, neck, and head. You exist and that’s kind of a miracle
considering the vast infinity of the universe.
> Replace any thought that may try to pop up, thank your brain for trying
to think, and remind it to focus on how awesome just being and breathing
is.
This technique introduces more oxygen into the brain and gets the blood flowing, as well as bringing you a sense of calm. When we get stressed and start to shorten our breath, it limits the flow of oxygen to the brain and cells. When this happens you start to think, “I’m going to die,” which makes no sense if your stress is being caused by a significant other’s lack of responses to your texts. This method takes a little bit more practice, but I promise, it can become one of the most cathartic and exciting parts of your day.

4. Do one thing at a time

One of my self-talk replacement questions from number one is, “What step can I take right now to get from where I am to where I want to be?” The most important part of that sentence is “What step can I take right now?” When we get stressed out, our thoughts quickly tend to snowball into irrationality because we’re taking ourselves out of the moment and thinking about everything that needs done or could happen in the future. This doesn’t make sense. Why? You only have one brain. Even though it’s a powerful brain, by creating all of these negative, potential future situations, it can’t focus on what needs to be done right now in order to avoid those situations. “What can I do right now?” There’s always only one thing to do at a time. Take a deep breath and get to work on that one thing, when that’s done, get to work on the next one thing, and so on. When our negative thoughts snowball, we get overwhelmed and slip into a self-induced paralysis, thus bringing our imagined horror-filled future into the present. When you feel your thoughts slipping into the future and bringing you stress, simply ask, “What can I do right now?” and do that thing.

5. Reach out

My philosophy is that life is a people business. I look at everyone I meet as a family member, friend, client, customer, etc. – no matter how rude (they’re probably just dealing with stress). The cool thing about other people is that no two human beings share the same perspective. Sometimes, when we’re in a stressful situation, it becomes difficult to objectively view the scenario. So reach out to someone, even if it’s the person whom you believe is causing you stress, tell them what you’re trying to achieve, the obstacle that’s stopping you, and what you’ve done so far. Don’t complain, argue, blame, or make excuses, otherwise you’ll push the other person away or they’ll simply tell you what you want to hear. Open up, be honest, give them those three bits of information, and just listen. Don’t think or interrupt – just listen. Many times, we already know the answer deep down, we just need an alternate perspective to confirm it. Then be willing and excited for the time when someone comes to you in a pinch. Human interaction is really a fascinating medium, and, at it’s highest potential, can be used to boost ourselves while simultaneously boosting others. That’s a pretty sweet concept. Take advantage of it.

6. Realize that it’s not that serious

Think about how many times you’ve been stressed out and remember that you’re still here, in one piece. You’ve overcome every single obstacle and roadblock that you’ve faced and you made it here today. These stepping stones make us who we are, and sometimes we may slip and fall, but we’d never learn to swim if we didn’t get in the water. That’s all stress is: an opportunity to learn, grow, and take your life where you’ve never taken it before. We’re all on our own journey, but think about how boring Lord of the Rings would be if they just walked right into Mordor, said hi, plopped the ring into the volcano, and went home. Things would go from a quest to an errand in a second. Sometimes the situations we find ourselves in seem so serious, when in reality, they’re just situations and we have the choice to make them serious, or enjoy the journey of learning how to overcome. If it’s a big deal, it isn’t. If it’s super stressful, it’s super not. Just learn to see whatever it is in a way that makes you laugh. Why? Laughter releases endorphins – chemicals that have the opposite effects of cortisol – from your brain. Laughter strengthens your immune system, boosts your energy, diminishes pain, relieves tension, increases blood flow, relaxes your muscles, eases fear, expands perspective, strengthens relationships, maximizes creativity, and so much more. I’m pretty sure it results in a healthier sex drive too.

“I feel so good right now.”
“Do you like feeling good?”
“Yeah.”
“So then keep doing it.”

It’s that simple.

PS.) Remind me not to wear sweat pants on stage.

Sources:

Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York, NY: Broadway Books.

Amen, D. (2000). Change your brain, change your life: The breakthrough program for conquering anxiety, depression, obsessiveness, anger, and impulsiveness. New York, NY: Times Books.

Katie, B., & Mitchell, S. (2002). Loving what is: Four questions that can change your life. New York, NY: Harmony Books.

Pietrangelo, A. (2014, August 25). The Effects of Stress on the Body. Retrieved October 6, 2015, from http://www.healthline.com/health/stress/effects-on-body

Shimoff, M., & Kline, C. (n.d.). Happy for no reason: 7 steps to being happy from the inside out.

Smith, M., & Segal, J. (2015, August 1). Laughter is the Best Medicine. Retrieved October 6, 2015, from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/emotional-health/laughter-is-the-best-medicine.htm

Tolle, E. (1999). The power of now: A guide to spiritual enlightenment. Novato, CA: New World Library.

Good News: You’re the Worst Bully You’ll Ever Have

“You have no business talking to her. She’s way out of your league.”
“You’re an idiot. You’re going to look and sound like an idiot and no one is going to like your presentation.”
“A comedy writer? Seriously? That’s impossible. You’re never going to be able to do that for a living. Just go to law school.”
“You always mess everything up. No wonder you broke up. You’ll never be happy again.”
“F*ck you, you piece of shit. You have no friends and no one likes you. You might as well just hang yourself with those Christmas lights.”

I’ve been bullied my whole life. In grade school and high school, I had to put up with all of the creative modifications people came up with for my last name. I had to deal with the repeated accusations that I was gay when I’m not (okay, maybe I set myself up with the pink and turquoise double popped collar). I remember being given the Stone Cold Stunner and being put in the Sharpshooter at recess in 5th grade, but I stopped being bullied by other people in high school. If you don’t know me, I have a pretty easygoing personality and I try to make other people laugh every chance I get, so this demeanor caused the external bullying to naturally dissipate. All of the lines in quotations at the beginning of this piece? In case you didn’t read the title, they were all said to me by me over and over again throughout my life. What a dick. Fortunately, I have trained myself to listen to my thoughts and challenge the ones that sound like this. Whenever I hear myself being a dick to myself, I ask myself the following question: “Is it true? Is it true that she’s way out of my league? Only if I don’t talk to her. Is it true that no one is going to like my presentation? Only if I perform with that underlying belief. Is it true that being a comedy writer for a living is impossible? Only if I don’t try because I think it’s impossible. Is it true that I’m never going to be happy again? Only if I listen and look for all of the reasons why I won’t be happy. Is it true that I’m a piece of shit that no one likes? …I have at least three friends.

Internal bullying, or self-depriciating self-talk, is the skier that starts the avalanche. One of the most important things I have ever learned is in the book “What to Say When You Talk to Your Self” by Shad Helmstetter: Our repeated thoughts become our programming. Our programming creates our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us, whether they’re actually true or not. Our beliefs color our perspectives, or attitudes. Our attitudes make us feel a certain way. Our feelings directly influence our actions. Our results come from our actions.

If we’re not getting the results we want, trace them all the way back to the words we use when we talk to ourselves. If something doesn’t go as planned for me, I listen to the words I tell myself and correct the ones that aren’t serving me so that next time, I get a better result. Self-bullying with negative or limiting thoughts is like shooting yourself in both legs before a marathon and expecting to finish first – it stops us before anyone or anything else even has a chance. Even if anyone or anything else tries to stop you, it’s your thoughts about that thing that can either stop you or propel you to success. No matter if you have re-programmed your brain to think positive, you’re still going to get that asshole bully voice popping up in your thoughts to suggest that your big sales pitch tomorrow is going to end with you losing your job, your wife leaving you, and your brother finding your body hanging by a strand of blinking Christmas lights from a support beam in your basement. Think for yourself, not against yourself, and remember to ask, “Is it really true?” If the thought is negative, chances are it’s that bully again, and the only way to give a bully power is to give truth to the words you say to yourself.

So don’t.

Instead, train that bully to be the coach who will support you and expect the best out of everything that you do.

Nothing is Good or Bad

Pop quiz: label the following situations as either good or bad:

-A car accident
-A wedding between 2 people deeply in love with each other
-The Great Depression
-Winning the lottery
-A job promotion
-Death of a loved one
-The company you work for is downsizing
-A customer screams in your face about how poorly you’re doing your job
-You run into a long lost friend
-Someone spills hot coffee on your lap
-You buy a new car
-Smoking a cigarette after quitting for a year
-The Cleveland Browns win the Super Bowl
-A sunny, 80-degree day with a slight breeze
-ISIS
-A baby’s first steps
-The car in the previously mentioned accident has 4 murderers inside and it crashes into a giant propane tank outside of a convention center hosting a murderer’s convention, and everybody dies in the ensuing explosion
-You’re confronted with a pop quiz when all you want to do is read a blog

No matter who you are, when you labeled the previous situations, you probably had a pretty good idea of what you would consider bad and what you would consider good. I’m also willing to bet that not everyone would agree on each one of these. A Pittsburgh Steelers fan may label a Browns Super Bowl victory as bad (and, let’s face it, would probably would label “death of a loved one” as good), a Buddhist monk may label the mass-murderer-massacre as bad, or you may love the burning sensation of scalding hot coffee on your crotch. The point I am trying to make is succinctly quoted by one of the most respected and brilliant minds throughout history, the Bard himself: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

“But I just got laid off from my job, that’s obviously a bad thing!”

I’m very sorry about your job, but let me reiterate: THERE IS NOTHING EITHER GOOD OR BAD, BUT THINKING MAKES IT SO. I know this is a difficult concept to entertain because we are raised and educated in a world where everything is either good or bad, but this is a linear way of thinking in a world where we are able to think without constraints. Ultimately, the determination of what is good and what is bad is subjective, proving that there is no consensus on what is truly good and what is truly bad. I could walk outside right now and say, “I love this crisp weather. Being able to see my own breath is hella cool,” while the person next to me says, “This weather is miserable… and also did you just say ‘hella cool?’” By attaching a good or bad label to something external, even though we’re both looking at the same thing, the experience we get from it is going to be completely different. Once we slap the almighty “good” or “bad” label onto something, our internal filters will only allow us to see the things that fall in line with that label. So He-Who-Hates-the-Cold, no matter what happens, will only find the things that make him miserable when it comes to winter. Whether he knows it or not, his labeling ensures his negative experience of winter. Meanwhile, He-Who-Loves-The-Cold will miss out on the negative and, thus, miss out on an opportunity to learn and grow. Labeling something as either X or Y causes us to miss out on all of the other letters of the alphabet.

“So if I don’t label things as good or bad, then what do I do? How will I live? Things have to be classified as something, otherwise what is there to live for?”

You’ll live better without this classification system. Another side effect of thinking in terms of good and bad is the fact that it brings pain into our lives. (Disclaimer: from this point forward, I will be putting quotes around the words “good” and “bad.”) At the end of every day, I used to pray and thank God for letting me have a “good” day. If I didn’t have a “good” day, I would skip that part of my prayer. To label something as good is to admit that there is a possible opposite, or a “bad,” and that if things can’t be labeled as “good,” then they’re “bad.” Because there’s a “bad” on the flip-side of the “good,” we live with a constant underlying fear of when the “good” goes away and the “bad” comes back. Because the laws of the universe state that like will always attract like, living in a state of fearing the “bad” grows that fear, and when we make choices in a state of fear, we create more of exactly what it is that we fear: the “bad.”

“So THAT’S why I lost my job. When I got promoted, it was good, but being so worried about losing money – or the bad – actually made me lose my job. How could I be so stupid??”

Actually, no. You didn’t lose your job because you were worried about the “bad.” You probably didn’t have any control over the fact that you lost your job, but the label you attach to it does affect what happens next.

“I want what happens next to be good- er- …well, you know what I mean. How do I stop labeling so I can do that?”

Even if we stop doing something, say a bad habit, it will always come back unless it is replaced by something else. Nothing is “good” or “bad,” but everything has, within it, an underlying good, or an opportunity, if you are looking for it. EVERYTHING. If something is labeled as “good” or “bad,” we miss out on the opportunity to learn and grow from it because we’ve already determined what that thing means to us. Subsequently, we resist the chance for growth. For example, with the Ferguson, Missouri incident, it is glaringly obvious who has labeled the outcome as “good” or “bad” because of their actions. Angry tweets, looting, protesting, arguing, etc. are the result of labels being attached to an external incident that we don’t have any control over. Because of this, many opportunities for growth are being missed and events like this will continue to occur. I realized the power of the underlying good when my aunt was murdered. It was easy to label the situation as “bad,” because a life was tragically lost. But I didn’t like the emotions that my labeling created, so I learned to see things differently. By looking for the opportunity to grow, I began to grasp the power of laughter. Because I chose to see a tragic situation, not in terms of black and white, but in terms of how I could improve myself in response to the situation, I began a journey into a career in comedy and as a writer. Without that powerful realization, you wouldn’t be reading this and I would probably be complaining on social networks along with everyone else.

It’s time to make a difference and this message must be spread. If we are to improve as a society, we must change our perspective first. Human beings aren’t made to think in terms of either or, we’re made to expand ourselves through critical thinking. By searching for the underlying good in every situation, our brains will filter out everything that won’t contribute to our growth, rather than everything that supports our “good” or “bad” labeling. Any time you hear yourself labeling something as “good” or “bad,” remember: There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

Happy Thanksgiving

Shooting the Blame

Is it too soon for a shooting joke? I write comedy, so I need to know when it’s not too soon. Shootings seem to be happening so frequently that it’s always going to be too soon, which is unfortunate. Not about it being too soon to joke, but about the frequency of shootings. The question that needs to be asked is “Why?” In the case of the Elliot Rodger shooting, male misogyny and societal expectations of sex were blamed. In the Columbine shooting, bullying was blamed. In the Sandy Hook shooting, mental health issues were blamed. And in all shootings, lack of gun control is blamed. Notice a common theme here? No matter the news story, there’s always someone or something to blame, and this way of thinking is teaching people that they are no longer responsible for their actions. Why are all of these shootings happening? Here’s a hint, it has nothing to do with guns or bullying – it’s about character. Each of the people who carried out these shootings lacked character, and by blaming something else, we sacrifice character in order to explain why we do what we do, and this leaves little room for growth. The idea that outside circumstances explain why we do what we do has been the basis for social science as we know it – psychology, sociology, and political science – since the latter half of the 19th century. Placing the blame on the environment means that people are no longer responsible for their actions since the causes lie in the situation and not the person. But we don’t take credit away from anyone if they succeed at something. If an actor gives a brilliant performance, we don’t say, “It’s because of his acting coach and the fact that he had supportive parents,” we give the actor the credit he deserves. So why do we place the blame for someone’s negative action on outside circumstances?

            By blaming outside circumstances, it makes solving the problem at hand much more difficult. If you want to fix a leaking drain pipe, you don’t replace the faucet. When we blame the situation, it advocates being driven by the past rather than by the future. It makes us victims to someone or something else and we become powerless to change anything. We even miss out on the credit for our success, which undermines our confidence and proves that “nothing we do matters.” False. When we realize that we are responsible for our results, we look for what we might have done better and then work on that area. Rather than banning guns, bullying, or violent video games and movies, we need to educate people on real life skills that each of us use every day. Teaching self-esteem, confidence, personal responsibility, effective communication, goal-setting, and positive mental fitness is just as important, if not more, than teaching math, science, and history. If these shooters had just learned the power of taking personal responsibility for their actions leading up to these tragedies, their self-confidence would be at a healthier level and we wouldn’t be having this conversation today. But when we learn that our situations in life aren’t our fault through the media and our conditioning, we feel like our lives are out of our hands and we blame others for our suffering. We must stop blaming and start educating – ourselves and others – to take back control over our lives and make peace and cooperation our common goal. In developed countries, the world is arguably better than it’s ever been! We have more purchasing power than ever before, more people are going to college than ever before, there are more cars than there are drivers, and there’s an app for everything! But depression rates are growing – the mean onset age of depression is down from 29.5 years old to 14.5 years old in just 50 years! We’ve been going the blaming route for awhile now, and these senseless acts of violence are still happening. Isn’t it time to try something different? We all share this planet, why are we finger-pointing and focusing on the problem instead of focusing on the solution: becoming responsible for the one thing we all have control over. Ourselves. That is how we can bring positive change to the world, one person at a time.

Here’s an alternate take from my web series “Creative Differences” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oL8d0MSCKiU